The Farmer and the Foodie

Spring has sprung, and with Farmers’ Markets resuming their regular seasonal hours I thought this was the perfect time to write about some other great food/farm events happening in the area during April. They include The Piedmont Farm Tour, book signings with Diane Daniel for her fabulous new book “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” and the much-anticipated book launch of “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Sheri Castle. And shhhhh, I’ve also included a recipe from Sheri’s new book.

On April 16th and 17th, from 1pm – 5pm the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), along with Weaver Street Market, will host the 16th annual Piedmont Farm Tour. This year there are six new farms for a total of 40, impressive!

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association helps family farms by educating about sustainable farming, building ways for local family farms to succeed and advocating for fair farm practices (get your membership here). For more than 20 years, Weaver Street Market has supported local farms to bring their communities the freshest, seasonal produce and local products available.

You can download the Piedmont Farm Tour brochure here, or pick one up at many of the areas farmers’ markets.

I had a wonderful time on the tour a few years back when a friend and I decided to go at the last-minute. I have no idea how any farms we visited that day, but I remember how humbling it was to meet the many farmers we spoke to and see firsthand how hard they work to bring us their fresh produce and meats.

Perfect for a weekend family outing, kids will love the baby goats, piglets, chickens and bunnies, and maybe a hay ride here and there. Most farms will be selling the fruits of their labor and several of the farms are also offering food. I for one have every intention of eating ice cream at Maple View Dairy, a buffalo burger at Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm and a lamb burger or lamb dog (or both =)) at Captain J.S Pope Farm after which I am heading to Benjamin Vineyards & Winery for an afternoon libation….just try standing in my way!

And don’t forget to bring a cooler for all the yummy purchases you are sure to make.

Cost is $25 per carload in advance or $30 the day of to visit all 40 farms, or $10 per car per farm. Tour buttons can be purchased at all Weaver Street Market locations, the Durham Farmers’ Market, Chatham Market Place and Harmony Farms or from the CFSA website.

For those of you who are new farmers, you can join fellow new farmers and special expert guests on a low-cost VIP bus ride to several of the farms. Cost is $3 and includes a tour button for the other day, snacks, materials and prizes. To register for the Sunday tour (Saturday is sold out) visit the CFSA website.

Don’t miss the pot luck supper at Castle Rock Gardens on Sunday April 17th immediately after the tour including a free show by Kickin Grass Band. Contact Patrick to RSVP at 919-545-0802 or castlerockgardens@gmail.com

Volunteer opportunities are also available, and much needed. Volunteer one afternoon and attend the whole tour FREE. Volunteers get an insider view of farms, have lots of fun, and get a FREE t-shirt. If interested, email fred@carolinafarmstewards.org or call 919-542-2402.

To educate myself about the farms participating in the farm tour, I’ve been reading the “Triangle” section in “Farm Fresh North Carolina” by Diane Daniel. Farm Fresh North Carolina (is) The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, Apple Orchards, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, Vineyards and Wineries, and More. The book is a great resource for all, and one I’ve read through several times since picking it up at her book launch on March 7th  at Fullsteam Brewery in Downtown Durham, NC.  I’ve been reading about all the farms I plan to visit during the farm tour, plus planning where I am going to go strawberry and blueberry picking this year (insert countdown). I love that each chapter ends with recipes from North Carolina chefs. Bonus!!

Part of the fun in reading “Farm Fresh North Carolina” is learning some history about the farms. For example:

“Second Cousins Tommy and Bob Pope run Captain John S. Pope Farm, which has been in the Pope family since 1852. Its namesake was a Civil War captain who was Tommy’s great-great grandfather and Bob’s great grandfather. Tommy, who lives a mile away, is the farmer, while Bob, a former marketing executive with Dupont, is the city slicker who lives in Raleigh. Throughout the years, the Popes have raised chickens, pigs, beef and milk cows, and tobacco. They were looking to diversify after the tobacco buyout when Bob spotted a truck painted with sheep. He tracked down the owner and learned he was a breeder. “Two weeks later I bought thirty ewes and a ram,” he said. Now they have about 350 to 400 grass-fed sheep running on seventy-five acres and sell the meat to top restaurants in the area and from from to farm. Farm tours , by appointment, include a look inside the family’s 1870 farmhouse, which is used for special functions. Occasionally farm dinners are offered as well.”

From Farm Fresh North Carolina: The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, Apple Orchards, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, Vineyards and Wineries, and More. Copyright © 2011 by Diane Daniel. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. http://www.uncpress.unc.edu

Diane will be signing and selling books at several locations in April. Her next appearances include the Durham Farmers’ Market on April 9th and on April 16th and 17th you can find her at Fickle Creek Farm during the Piedmont Farm Tour.

What better way to continue the journey into our local food culture than to take our local food purchases or CSA farm box goodies back to the kitchen and get cooking. To help us, award-winning food writer, cooking teacher and recipe developer/tester Sheri Castle has published “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.”

Don’t miss her book launch this Monday April 4th at Parker and Otis at 7pm. It is open to the public and Sheri will be there to sell and sign books. And that’s just the kick-off, for the rest of the month Sheri will be travelling non-stop to talk about and sign copies of the book. Here is her schedule.

The book offers the home cook insight into the world of vegetables and fruits and how to use what is in season to create meals the whole family will enjoy.

 “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets and Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes,” according to UNC Press, “has a vision that’s totally in sync with the booming from farm to table food movement. Her book offers more than 300 recipes that celebrate the pleasures of fresh seasonal food and honors the delicious, healthful home cooked meals made possible by the divers array of fruits and vegetables grown in the South and most of the rest of the nation, as well.”

For a little preview, I’ve included her recipe for Fish Tacos with Radish Slaw

Fish Tacos with Radish Slaw

Fish tacos didn’t originate in the South, but southerners took to them like fish to water. The mild farmed catfish from the Delta are good here, but other mild white fish fillets are also good. The technique for cooking the fish yields crispy, crusty fillets that aren’t fried. Be sure to use fine cornmeal or corn flour because coarse meal doesn’t cook as quickly as the fish and remains rough and gummy.

Fish tacos are often topped with radishes, but we southerners like our slaw, so this recipe combines the two. The slaw is a good side dish to serve with other things, even if you aren’t making the tacos. Salting and draining the vegetables makes this slaw wonderfully crisp, but you can skip that step when time is short. When the radish greens are very fresh and tasty, you can add them to the slaw.

Makes 4 servings

SLAW:

2 cups finely shredded savoy cabbage or other green cabbage

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup thinly sliced radishes

¼ cup thinly sliced scallions or spring onions (white and tender green parts)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

TACOS:

Vegetable oil spray

 4 catfish or other thin, mild fish fillets, cut in half crosswise (about 4 ounces each)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup instant or all-purpose flour

¼ cup fine cornmeal or corn flour (masa)

1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

8 small flour tortillas, warmed for serving

Sour cream or crema, for garnish

  1. For the slaw: toss the cabbage and salt together in a colander. Let drain for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Rinse the cabbage, pat dry, and transfer into a bowl. Add the radishes and scallions. Whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, honey, and oil in a small bowl and season with the pepper. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Use the slaw soon, or refrigerate. Stir well before serving.
  2. For the tacos: Position rack in the top third of oven and preheat to 500F. Mist a rimmed baking sheet with the spray or line with nonstick aluminum foil.
  3. Season the fish on both sides with the salt and pepper. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and chili powder in a shallow dish. Stir together the mayonnaise and lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread a thin layer of the mayonnaise mixture on both sides of the fish, then coat with the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Arrange the fish on a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake until the crust is crisp and golden and the fish is cooked through, about 10  minutes. Serve at once in the warm tortillas with a little slaw and a dollop of sour cream. Serve the rest of the slaw on the side.

MAKE-AHEAD NOTE: You can make the slaw up to 2 days ahead. Store covered and refrigerated. Stir well and check the seasoning before serving.

From The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes. Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Castle. Photographs © 2011 by Stewart Waller. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. http://www.uncpress.unc.edu

And while we’re on the subject of local food and farms, why not sign up for the 10% campaign created by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). It’s a challenge to us locals to buy at least 10% of our food from NC sources. The campaign tracks how much money is spent in the local market with the goal of building a local sustainable economy, from farm to fork. Their goal is to have 4,000 people signed up by April 22, which is Earth Day 2011.

Stay tuned for more exciting events happening this month.

Have a great weekend!

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